Did They Get it Right? – Best Actor – Oscars 1938

Here are the five nominees: (Winner in Bold)

Charles Boyer (Algiers)
James Cagney (Angels with Dirty Faces)
Robert Donat (The Citadel)
Leslie Howard (Pygmalion)
Spencer Tracy (Boys Town)

Biggest Snub:

Jean Gabin – The Grand Illusion

My Overall Thoughts:

This year has five great performances, but one will always stand out far above the rest and Tracy’s portrayal of Father Flanagan still remains among the best performances in the history of films.

My Rankings:

Acting Performances

5. Leslie Howard
4. Charles Boyer
3. Robert Donat
2. James Cagney
1. Spencer Tracy


5. Algiers Interesting idea of showing how a man can trap himself in a claustrophobic situation and has to deal with things as the world closes in on him. The chemistry between Boyer and LeMarr is quite good and it’s quite understandable how this story helped influence the idea for Casablanca (1942) just a few years later. Boyer deservingly was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars for this role, yet it was a strong year and he had little chance of beating Tracy.
4. PygmalionGreat adaptation of the Shaw play. The characters are fun to watch (despite expecting them to constantly break out in song.) Howard and Hiller have such great chemistry together which makes this work even better. Amazing dialogue.
3. Angels with Dirty FacesCagney does a great job of showing how talented an actor he can be with this role.  The character is developed quite well and doesn’t seem like a typical or stereotypical gangster role because of the depth of the character. The story waivers back and forth because it has both poignant and devious scenes all wrapped into one. Cagney and O’Brien have great chemistry as lifelong friends that have chosen very diverse paths in life.  Cagney definitely deserved his Best Actor Nomination a the Oscars that year but no one was gonna be able to beat Tracy as father Flanagan.
2. Boys TownExcellent acting job by Tracy (as usual) which earned him his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar. Emotional story, but the movie feels too subdued in certain parts. Rooney is also great as the most difficult pupil Flanagan ever encountered.
1. The CitadelReally well made film that gives us a great arc for a doctor who wants to change the world. The various stops on his journey are all interesting to watch and unfortunately not much has changed in the 80 years since this came out. Russell and Donat are both great here and once again prove how great actors they truly were. One of the best films that year and was most definitely deserving of the nomination for Best Picture.

Do I agree with the Oscar winner? – Most Definitely!  Tracy is amazing as Father Flanagan and none of the other 5 performances nominated come even close to being so great. This was the first of (so far) only twice in Oscar history that an actor won back to back awards for Best Actor – Th other was Tom Hanks 55 years later.

Let me know what you think about these films and my rankings!

4 thoughts on “Did They Get it Right? – Best Actor – Oscars 1938

  1. “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”. Thus – no nomination for Cary Grant in”Bringing Up Baby”. Or for that matter – the suave charm and adventurous soul of Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. Tough to win awards when it all seems so seamlessly effortless.

    Liked by 1 person

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